The snow is coming, but the Celtics won’t chill.
Down two key players, including its All-Star point guard, this reinvented team has faltered but not failed — not yet. Instead, it only seems to burn hotter and brighter and become better and stronger.
Behind a raucous Garden crowd that raised the decibels to jet-engine levels, the Celtics butchered their archrival Lakers, 116-95, to win their season-high-tying sixth consecutive game Thursday.
Once again, the Celtics played unselfishly, moved the ball brilliantly and received strong nights from their veterans. Paul Pierce led the onslaught with 24 points and Kevin Garnett scored 15 points and became the 16th player in NBA history to reach the 25,000-point plateau.
“We’re playing selfless and free; that’s how we have to be,” coach Doc Rivers said.
Boston essentially ended the game in the third quarter, when it made 16 of its 21 shots and scored 37 points, which tied its season-high mark for points in a quarter.
“Ball movement,” Garnett explained. “Guys taking shots with confidence. Multiple guys touching the ball . . . We weren’t thinking, we were just hitting on all cylinders. We were on attack mode that whole quarter.”
The Celtics (26-23) closed that frame on a 23-7 run and entered the fourth quarter leading, 95-69, behind a roaring Garden and with a national television audience watching.
“I like these types of games,” Pierce said. “You have a game that has a playoff feel to it. There’s always a little extra mustard you’re going to put out there when this type of setting is set up for you.”
Indeed, the game had a playoff feel, of one that happened in the very same building: 2008, NBA Finals, Game 6.
In that contest, the Celtics routed the Lakers by 39 points. In this one, the Celtics led by as much as 32.
“I didn’t realize we were up by so much until the end when I looked up,” Pierce said.
The Lakers thought they were going to be buoyed by Dwight Howard, who started after missing three straight games with an injured right shoulder, but the All-Star center wasn’t his usual self — or anything close.
He finished with 9 points and nine rebounds and fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Kobe Bryant put up a fight, with 27 points, but the game amounted to one-on-five, and even he couldn’t overcome that. The Lakers clearly missed forward Pau Gasol, who is out indefinitely after tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot.
The Lakers (23-27) entered the game hot, having won 6 of 7 despite injuries and infighting. Any momentum they had ended early, when Boston built a 16-point lead in the second quarter.
Boston had six players score in double figures, including two off the bench: Jeff Green (19) and Jason Terry (15).
There’s no doubt that the Celtics are becoming more comfortable in the share-the-ball, run-and-gun style they adopted with Rajon Rondo out for the season.
“When you sit back and Rondo does so many different great things for this team, you can kind of get lackadaisical, if you will,” Garnett said. “It’s very similar to if you have someone cooking for you and you’re expecting it every day.
“[Then] all of the sudden, that someone is not there, obviously, to do that, and it’s up to you to feed yourself. And all of the sudden you start making these gourmet dishes and then you have some more people over to the house, more people eating.
“[But] you never know you possessed that, unless you lost that person who was cooking.
“It’s kind of like that, you know what I mean.”
The Celtics built a 16-point lead in the second quarter behind ball movement and bench play.
By halftime, Boston’s lead stood at 14, and the Celtics kept the margin around double digits from then on, even with Bryant pouring in points.
“It’s typical Celtics basketball,” Bryant said. “They all just put their hard hats on and they go out and go hard and figure things out. It always just seems like whenever their backs are against the wall, you know that’s when you really see the best from them.”
The Celtics had an answer for nearly every Lakers bucket, and those answers often came in the paint, where Boston held a 58-36 scoring advantage.
Rookie big man Fab Melo checked in late and scored his first bucket, and not long after, it was “Gino Time,” with Garnett dancing from the bench, his night done.
The fans who yelled their throat raw started to file out just a few minutes before it ended, and the players headed toward the locker room again wearing smiles.
“Our guys just think they’re good, and they’re going to keep playing,” Rivers said. “They didn’t doubt themselves. Others did, and they should’ve. When you lose guys like Rondo and [Jared Sullinger], I get that. Continued...